Sentimental Journey - one of the last flying B17's in the world

The day after we got back from our trip to the Alps I had a dilemma. I was tired and jetlagged. I had lots to do to get ready to go back to work. But it was the weekend of the big airshow at Mt. Home Air Force Base, forty miles from Boise. Every three years the USAF Thunderbirds are there and this was the year. So I had to decide - take it easy and recover from the trip or hustle to Mt. Home to catch the airshow.

I love airshows. I love to watch jet aerobatic teams like the Thunderbirds and the Blue Angels. I also love vintage aircraft, old WWII airplanes. I'll watch airplanes flying any time. I didn't really have much choice. I had to go. But I wasn't quite motivated enough to get up early to be there at the very start. The Thunderbirds were the main attraction and wouldn't fly till late in the afternoon. I left a little before lunch time. Plenty of time to get there and be ready for the Thunderbirds.

Mickey on our visit to Sentimental Journey in 2003

There were some really cool old WWII aircraft on static display. There was a navy TBM Avenger torpedo bomber which was launched from US carriers in the Battle of Midway. There was a B25 medium bomber which is best known as the aircraft used by the Doolittle Raiders in the famous Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo raid. The star of the show was a B17 Flying Fortress, one of the most famous airplanes of all time. It was the workhorse of the Mighty Eighth, the US Eighth Air Force, during its bombing campaign against Germany during WWII. The particular aircraft that was there was named Sentimental Journey, a B17G based in Mesa, Arizona which tours the country every summer. I had seen it several times before at other air shows. In December 2003 Mickey and I took a trip to Phoenix. We went there over Christmas break to see our first NHL hockey game, the NY Rangers against the Phoenix Coyotes. The trip was back in our big hockey fan days. While we were there we visited the home field of Sentimental Journey in Mesa, Arizona. We were able to take a tour inside the aircraft and talked to some of the guys who work on keeping the seventy year old airplane flying.

Mickey at the right waist gun of Sentimental Journey in 2003

It takes an incredible amount of work to keep these old aircraft flying. Every part must be custom machined. Thousands of hours are put in by volunteers to preserve the history represented by these beautiful airplanes. Sadly a grand old B17, the Liberty Belle, crashed and burned earlier this year. Although no one was injured, the airplane was totally destroyed. During WWII there were thousands of B17's flying bombing missions against Germany every day. Now there are only a few.

I was there in time to see a flight demonstration by an F15 Eagle. It's a big fighter plane. It was very impressive to see the pilot make a low pass and then pull back on the stick and climb straight up at full afterburner. It went up more like a rocket than an airplane and the roar of the engine was almost painful. Obviously the thrust to weight ratio was significantly more than one. Then a P51 Mustang took off and flew in formation with the F15. It was a beautiful sight to see the best fighter plane of WWII flying alongside the main US air superiority fighter of the past twenty years. The two aircraft made several low and slow passes in formation.

P51 Mustang and F15 Eagle Heritage Flight

After the Heritage Flight I spent some more time walking through the static displays. One that was a lot of fun was an F15 Eagle of the Singapore Air Force. Since Singapore is a small country it does not have the luxury of large training ranges like the US Air Force has in the western US. As a US ally Singapore rents part of Mt. Home AFB. There are large training ranges in the desert of Idaho, Nevada and Oregon nearby. Strange as it may seem, there is a Singapore Air Force training squadron based in Mt. Home, Idaho. I remember the surprise when I lived in Singapore, the first time I was walking down Orchard Road and saw a "Singapore Air Force - Mt. Home Idaho" tshirt on someone. I spent quite a while talking to the Singapore Air Force guys there. They are stationed in the US for two year tours. Most of the guys I talked to liked the US. They said that Americans were very were very friendly and they felt welcome. I suspect the toughest thing for them was probably food. Eating is a national sport in Singapore.

Singapore Air Force F15 Eagle lah

I got a lot of interest from the Singapore Air Force guys when I told them I had lived in Singapore for several years. Then one of them noticed that I was wearing a Tiger Beer tshirt. "Hey, Tiger Beer! Did you bring some for us?" I replied "No, I thought I would get some from you."

Like many of the groups at the air show the Singapore Air Force was selling unit tshirts. I thought it would be cool to get one but the biggest size they had was an adult medium. Nostalgic. Just like when we lived in Singapore. "No big sizes!"

Now it was finally time for the main event. The Thunderbirds were ready to fly. I had seen them fly at Mt. Home several times before. The last time had been in 2003. That was eventful because right after takeoff Thunderbird #6 crashed while doing his first maneuver. It is something that I will never forget. Fortunately the pilot was able to eject just in time and was ok. The thing that I remember most vividly is the sound when the airplane hit. It was a THUMP that I felt more than heard. The memory was still vivid when the Thunderbirds took off.

Thunderbird 6 ejects just before crashing at Mt. Home in 2003

The Thunderbirds put on an awesome show and there were no mishaps. There aren't many things I enjoy more than watching a jet aerobatic team. It was beautiful. I have seen the Blue Angels and the Thunderbirds many times. I would say that usually the Blue Angels do a better job - flying a tighter formation and doing a closer crossover manuever. But this was the best that I had ever seen the Thunderbirds fly. Their formation was very tight. When they did their most dramatic maneuver, the Bomb Burst with a four plane crossover, they did it as tightly as I had ever seen. But don't take my word for it. Very impressive.

It was an amazing show. It was well worth the trip. When I come back in a future life, I definitely want to be a fighter pilot and be in the Thunderbirds or the Blue Angels. Or... maybe a major league shortstop who hits .300. Or maybe a world-class Himalayan climber. And I can't forget being a Nobel prize winning theoretical physicist. What the hell - I'll do all of them.